The Westmount Independent newspaper managed to stir up some controversy (and let people know of its existence) by picking a fight with a local SAQ outlet that it said refused to distribute its paper.
It started with a Page 1 piece on March 16 (PDF) that said “Anglo papers banned from local SAQ”. Of course, the headline was wrong, as the story explained. The Westmount Examiner, the Transcontinental-owned community weekly, was available there, and is what really seemed to piss off the Independent folk. Still, they managed to find someone who worked there who said she wasn’t interested in giving space for the Independent if it was an anglo paper.
This apparent conflict has led to stories at CJAD, The Gazette and even La Presse. There was also a follow-up piece in the Independent, also on Page 1.
Even now, it seems the Independent isn’t sure if this is an anglo-oppression issue or an underdog-vs-corporate-media issue. It seems to be arguing that it’s both.
It looks like this issue will probably end peacefully, with the SAQ at Sherbrooke and Victoria allowing both anglo papers to distribute there.
Still, I wonder about all the ink being spilled because some store wouldn’t let some guy drop his freebie newspaper there.
Incidentally, I happened to chat with the Examiner’s Wayne Larsen on an unrelated issue the day the Gazette piece came out. He said he hadn’t read it and was barely aware of the issue, primarily because he’s the newspaper’s editor and distribution isn’t something he concerns himself with.
I think it’s an over blown thing.
What I think it says more is about the level of anxiety minority groups fell in this province. It’s just a stupid free newspaper. But when you feel constantly under attack by the provinces laws and rhetoric. You start to wonder if this isn’t another attack on you.
I mean, just look at the craziness over the niqab. The whole government is wrapped up about maybe 50 women in this province wearing the damn thing. Stop everything. the enemy has entered Quebec. How crazy can this province be? I guess acting crazy is better than actually handling real problems that the province is facing. They spend a lot of time and resources in trying to stamp out anything and anyone that doesn’t fit their idea of what a resident of Quebec should be like.
So, yes…I do think that the newspaper being told it can’t place it’s freebee at the entrance of a Quebec Crown Corporation was a reaction to the level of anxiety that minority groups feel in this province.
It’s an old-fashioned newspaper war, nothing more. What might make it different is that one has already lost, but their resources are bigger.
For a long time, the Westmount Examiner came in your mail every Thursday, the only way to get it was by paying, usually subscription but also at the newsstand. It was decently thick, covered what needed covering (given the small town nature of the paper) and had a very good ratio of content to ads. There were regular columns from the Mayor, the local MNA and the local MP, though maybe not every week. There was a useful listing of upcoming events in Westmount, and for some years, even a listing for events “Beyond Westmount’s Border” which was decent in itself. If you had some important local story, you’d get the coverage, a real story not just that they’d print the press release.
Then it declined, likely after it was sold to the Big Chain. It went free, delivery was sporadic, and it kept shrinking. The ratio of content to ads dropped over a period of time, till now when it’s mostly ads. They don’t bother with the events listing, that’s banished to the webpage (but I don’t find the webpage is particularly updated). They’ve got outsiders writing columns, not just not-locals but from other weeklies in the chain. The politician columns and I think the paid page from Westmount are gone, though that seemed to be deliberate at some point, when the decline was well in progress and it was time to abandon the paper. Once, the letter column was lively and large, an extension of council meetings not just feedback about the paper, now it’s not even a weekly feature.
They’ll run a big photo of some event, and then send readers to the webpage for the story.
Usually there is a page (or what remains after the ads) of photos of local businesses, serving no purpose but to plug an advertiser (or maybe entice them); sometimes they don’t even seem to be local businesses, and certainly the captions barely tell anything. Last spring, the thickest issue was the April Fool’s Day issue, a complete waste, especially when they can’t provide content on a regular basis. You can take in the paper in five minutes, it complete lacks content.
They have room for a page of puzzles and games, and last week used a page for a review of a non-local restaurant, but local content is lacking.
If anyone went to the SAQ and saw only the Westmount Examiner, they’d complain too because the paper has become virtually useless.
The Westmount Independent is the newcomer, harking back to the days when the Examiner was in its prime (though maybe not as large as the Examiner was in its best years). It’s got all the letters and articles and politician columns that the Examiner used to have, it’s got the listings (though maybe not as detailed as in the Examiner in its prime), and the ratio of content to ads is again high.
There had been previous challengers to the Examiner, I can recall one period when there
was a decent competitor, and I recall some lesser attempts. There was/is even a French language local weekly in relative recent years (I recall it starting out as English or bilingual, then gradually French dominated), though it must have disappeared since I’ve not seen it in some time.
The Examiner has longevity, and the money from the Chain. The Independent has the content, and independence.
The Examiner lost long ago. There were some issues last year, or maybe the year before, when it sure seemed like it was going to fold. When the Monitor shutdown, the Examiner was barely there each week and seemed a logical paper to go the same way. It’s recovered a bit, but not much.
So the war begins, the new clearly in power, the old unwilling to give up. The Examiner publishes an article about diagonal crossing at the pedestrian signals, even claiming the timing was arranged and quotes the city director. Then the Independent has a story, and no, such crossing is illegal. One paper had even run a story maybe a year before about ticketing of pedestrians crossing diagonally on such four way pedestrian lights, I’m sure it must have been the Independent.
One columnist in the Independent says something considered outrageous, and the Examiner gets the Mayor to comment on it, suggesting the columnist is wrong (or something like that).
I’m sure there have been other instances where the two papers have very different interpretations of the same story.
Where did the SAQ story break? In the Independent. They weren’t getting into the outlet, so of course its an issue. They want to be read, and in this case their paper is far better than the Examiner (no, anyone comparing the two papers would know that’s not subjective). If the Independent was allowed at the outlet, there’d be no story. Unless the Examiner wasn’t allowed there, in which case they’d cover it.
This is the same as the Theatre St. Catherine story last summer. People without existing experience commenting on a story that’s already news somewhere else. Those of us getting spam from the theatre knew it was a spam issue, not linguistic, but the press never dug deeper, they never used it as an opportunity to discuss how arts groups spam. This non-story gets propagated along the notion of language, but anyone who actually reads the two papers each week would not only know which one is better, but would instantly know that the competition between the papers is the key factor.
Did I miss something? When I go to the SAQ, the last thing I’m thinking about is a newspaper.
Truly a great comment!
The Independent is partly run by folks from the old-skool Examiner. Ted Sancton does the layout, and he’s the son of old man Sancton who owned the paper back when it was doing a reasonable job of being a community paper. At least one of the writers used to work for them then, too. (Just a footnote. It’s indicative that the current Examiner is just a teaser for web content, also.)